CONvergence 2014 – Panels

July 9, 2014

Well, my panels. I wanted to review what I was involved in. I went a little lighter on panels this year in an effort to balance how busy and involved I am with chances to relax and spend time with people. I think I managed to get close to the sweet spot with seven panels. A few that I hoped would happen didn’t, but there’s always next year!

If you’d like to read about some of the people from CON that are important to me, take a look at this post. Click any of the headings below if you want to read more about the panel, or who else was involved.

Hobby Electronics: From Prototype to Product

This is a topic very close to me right now. I’ve been working on my Choosatron project for almost a year (if I only count the Kickstarter and beyond), and it has been a huge undertaking with countless lessons. Last year there was a great response to me organizing a hardware panel, so I was excited to do it again with a great focus on how you get beyond your prototype. It was standing room only, and at least a few people came up to me to let me know how happy they were that they attended! It’s important to encourage people in areas like this because of the seemingly high bar to entry. A lot of it is fear of what they don’t know, and I think we have a responsibility (for those that have passed through the fear fog) to help others through it. All the panelists did a great job, and I think we helped encourage some people to get their feet wet, and hopefully others to take things even further!

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Oh wow, this show has gone better than I could have imagined. A year and a half ago I was in London with Paul Cornell at Forbidden Planet and I found this book called The Grass King’s Concubine with a terribly awful and generic book cover. I was joking with Paul about it when we came across our friend C. Robert Cargill’s book Dreams and Shadows, which got us talking about book covers in general, and how little control authors have over them. As a result, many of them are quite terrible. The differences between UK and American releases are wild, and sometimes depressingly hilarious because of what it says about many publishers views on the US audience.

Judging a Book by Its CoverThis gave me the idea for doing an improv show where teams of players get an anonymized cover of a mystery book, and have to tell the audience a story based on that cover for about five minutes, tag teaming as necessary. That night I emailed Melissa Kaercher to explain the premise, and by the next day she had already set it up with Programming for CON. This was our first performance in 2013. It was done a few times more between then and now, some tweaks to the rules, but it is damn solid fun. Standing room only, and many kind words from strangers in the days that follows our show at CON. Tim Wick is the perfect MC for the show, Dawn Krosnowski the perfect teammate, and Molly and Nick Glover killer competitors and hilarious performers. So happy!

iOS vs. Android

I honestly forgot that I had put this together, and didn’t remember why I did. If you read the description it specifically mentions saying nice things about the OS you don’t use. When I submitted this I was still working at Clockwork Active Media leading the mobile development, so I think I was getting sick of people being such dicks to each other based on what kind of phone they used.

It ended up being an extremely calm, and productive conversation about all mobile OSes, the different innovations, how they’ve forced each other to improve, and what we can expect in the future. Kudos to the other panelists for balanced discussion, and the audience for not bringing any soap boxes!

Killer B’s Improv Movie Show

Kelvin LickingA long running panel, six years, maybe more by now. Imagine a mad mix of movie clips riffed live by a panel of brilliant improv artists, backed by a live theremin creating an eerie soundtrack on the go. Including many of CONvergences best comedians, this panel never fails to make me break into laughter while performing. This is another Melissa Kaercher and Jerry Belich (that’s me!) venture, of which I’ve yet to tire. If you didn’t know, I play the theremin, so it’s a great excuse for me to play the part of a musician! This year we were particularly ‘on’. All of us felt it, and audience members reported that it was the funniest one they had seen yet. After so long this is very encouraging! Chad Dutton joined me with music on his keyboard, and Tony Brewer adding sound effects, adding a lot of perfectly subtle touches! I always look forward to this one.

Do You Want to Play the Theremin?

I found out from Tim Wick almost six months ago that one of the guests of honor played the theremin, and was planning a panel to teach people about it. Being the only theremist at CONvergence that can play classically (to my, or the knowledge of anyone I know), I had to be a part of this! We set it up with programming, and a few months ago Sarah Clemens and were put in touch to talk about the panel. I ended up bringing my Moog Etherwave Pro since I needed a theremin there anyway, and this particular model is quite rare.

The panel itself went absolutely swimmingly. Sarah was thrilled to get the chance to play an Etherwave Pro, as only 75-80 of the limited edition model I have exist in the world. I was ecstatic to get to talk about playing with someone else who actually CAN. Most that ‘play’ only use it as a noise instrument. That isn’t to say that isn’t ok, it totally is! I just like knowing if someone can play, or if someone has only used it experimentally. Anyway, Sarah was charming and did an amazing job talking about the history. It had been a long time since I played, so I’m really glad it came right back when I had to perform Claire de Lune by ear without any backing. Phew!

Sarah Clemens and Jerry Belich

Drinking with Geeks

I don’t think I could be any prouder of a stupid idea, another Melissa Kaercher and Jerry Belich cooperation. It is much like the name suggests, and this was our fifth year of standing room only, and usually long waits to get an actual seat! The image header for this post is the DwG audience. It was actually after doing a Killer B’s show at Brave New Workshop in Uptown that I came up with this. We were drinking a lot at Green Mill across the street, and everyone was just being so damn funny! It was nearing the time when you submit panels, so I said, “We should do a panel of this! Us just drinking and hanging out, being funny! We might as well have an audience!”. We laughed about it, but it stuck in my mind, and Melissa’s as well. Later on we decided, “What the hell? We can have a goof off panel with no real responsibilities”. Knowing Joseph Scrimshaw (part of Killer B’s), we thought he’d be perfect for it, and he volunteered to MC. The first year was chaos, with a packed room, a lot of booze, and NO plan. A bar was set up for US to make drinks, but a line immediately formed. Fearing we would get shut down, we sent everyone back to their seats and made the rules clear: We can’t give ANYONE in the audience booze. The audience can give us PLENTY of booze. After year one, we added some structure, brining weird boozes to taste and comment on, and allowing people to bring us strange concoctions. It has become a great panel to invite guests of honor, or other fantastic people, to let themselves go a bit. Not to mention, the ASL interpretation we added some years ago is insanely funny when a panelist says particularly heinous things.

Drinking with Geeks

This year, much like Killer B’s, was particularly on fire. Not much to say other than everyone had a spectacular time, and that we’ve gotten really good at drinking many liquors, but not killing ourselves (literally). This is a show I wish could be a more regular live event, though I don’t know if it would be nearly as special. The most vivid memory I have of this years was feeding a shot to Joseph Scrimshaw the way a mother bird would to her baby. Yeah. We did that.

Art: Impossible

This is a new panel as of 2013, but in spirit is a reboot of a panel called Iron Artist that has been going on since before I even attended CONvergence (I think). It had needed a refresh for a while, but the core concept was great, so I’m glad it didn’t just disappear. In a nutshell, a panel of artists are given themes and time limits to create original works of art live. Melissa Kaercher is the only artist that ever really worked outside drawing or painting, and after we realized we worked so well together, we decided to partner up. This started maybe five years ago? Here is an example of one year we did a stop motion video in theme, within 45 minutes. Our shtick is using a different medium every year, for added chaos and entertainment value. Candy, pipe cleaners, Tibetan sand art, and this year – sock puppets! What a blast. 🙂

Sock Puppets

Closing Ceremony

Jeremy Stomberg and Bill Stiteler wrote the closing sketch this year, with excellent video work by Romeo Azar. It was a Hunger Games theme, with characters from various story universes, like Star WarsDoctor WhoFirefly, and The Hobbit. I was cast as Frodo, and Bilbo and I ended up strangling each other after an argument about how he keeps making up new parts to his story There and Back Again. Very funny stuff! I’ve been involved with opening / closing ceremonies for years, but this is the first time I did anything live. In the past it was helping make the video or animation, or acting in the prerecorded parts. It was lots of fun and always look forward to being a part of it in some fashion. If you’re curious, my excellent friend Brian Quarfoth and I animated the opening ceremonies video, and closing video for 2010, and I worked on the opening video for 2011! Wee!

Bilbo and Frodo

Other than that, I helped on the video team record various performances / panels and spent a lot of time talking with amazing people. Oh yeah! After years of missing it, I finally made it to House of Toast! Below you can see my delicious selection of heinz beans, sardines in tomato sauce, Cholula, and Captain Crunch – as mentioned in Barb Abney’s blog post about CON!

House of Toast